Reprising some familiar stories but filling in plenty of fond nuance, the lead actors and director of Scarface marked the films 35th anniversary with a crowd-pleasing Q&A session at the Tribeca Film Festival.
After a screening of the 1983 film, director Brian De Palma joined Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer and Steven Bauer (who played Tony Montanas gangster partner) to reminisce. As they were brought onstage one by one, the sold-out Beacon Theatre crowd let out loud, concert-worthy roars and gave Pacino a standing ovation before anyone had uttered a word.
“Bombast was part of what we were trying to say with the movie,” Pacino said. “It was bigger than life.”
Pacino recalled stumbling on the original 1932 Scarface when it was playing at the long-shuttered Tiffany Theatre on Sunset Boulevard in LA. Seeing star Paul Muni on screen, he remembered thinking, “I want to be him! I want to be Paul Muni.” He called producer Martin Bregman, backer of Pacino gems including Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico and Carlitos Way, to ask if he could pursue the remake rights. Sidney Lumet was attached to direct for a time, and Pacino said the late director came up with the idea to turn the antihero played by Paul Muni in Howard Hawks original into a Cuban immigrant in Miami. (Bregman, who was in the Beacon audience, got a prolonged ovation from the panelists and the crowd during the session.)
In trying to get the MPAA ratings board to sign off on all of that bombast (including 226 uses of the word “f—k”) without an X rating, De Palma said a shot of a clown getting shot proved highly problematic, but in the end he prevailed thanks to a “very nice presentation” to the board, arranged by producer Marty Bregman. As to the profanity, Bauer recalled that many critics, including Times Richard Schickel, highlighted the number of f-bombs as a major theme in their reviews.
As to the famous chainsaw scene, “That was in [Oliver Stones] script,” De Palma said. (Stone did not attend, but got several shoutouts.) “He did all this reporting in Florida and he based it on these gangsters who were chopping up bodies with chainsaws and dumping them in the garbage.” De Palma said the violence, while intense, had a point. “I thought that we had to show that these were different kinds of gangsters. I thought, Right at the beginning, lets show the kind of violence were going to be dealing with.”
Moderator Jesse Kornbluth, trying to involve Pfeiffer in the conversation, struck a jarringly tone-deaf note. On the same stage where the festival had kicked off the night before with a powerful statement about female empowerment in the premiere of a Gilda Radner documentary, he decided to ask about Pfeiffers weight during production of Scarface.
“As the father of a daughter, I am concerned with body image,” he said, in a less-than-promising prelude. “In the preparation for this film, what did you weigh?” Stunned by the blunt question, which arrived without the typical gesture of, say, a comment about her actual performance, boos and jeers began to ripple through the audience. “This is not the question you think it is!” Kornbluth protested to the audience. After a long pause, Pfeiffer gamely replied, “Well, OK … I dont know. But I was playing a cocaine addict.” She forged ahead and recalled her approach. “As the shoot went on, I tried to time it so I became more and more emaciated. The problem is, the movie went six months” – Pacino cut in, “eight months!” – and the climactic scene kept getting delayed. “The crew kept bringing me bagels because they were so worried about me,” Pfeiffer said.
Bauer, who is part Cuban, also elicited some hoots in the audience when he talked about his response to people who were upset about the films depiction of Latinos and the Cuban community, an issue that has cropped up over the years given that the creative team was mostly white. “I tried to tell them, Relax, man. Its a movie.”
‘Antebellum’ has a ‘Get Out’ vibe, but doesn’t live up to its twist
“Antebellum” is built around a provocative twist, and it’s a good one — as well as one that definite..
“Antebellum” is built around a provocative twist, and it’s a good one — as well as one that definitely shouldn’t be spoiled even a little. Once that revelation is absorbed, however, the movie becomes less distinctive and inspired, reflecting an attempt to tap into the zeitgeist that made “Get Out” a breakthrough, without the same ability to pay off the premise.
Originally destined for a theatrical run, the movie hits digital platforms trumpeting a “Get Out” pedigree in its marketing campaign, since there’s an overlap among the producing teams.
More directly, the film marks the directing debut of Gerard Bush + Christopher Renz, who have championed social-justice issues through their advertising work. The opening script features a quote from author William Faulkner, whose intent will eventually become clearer: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
If that sounds like a timely means of drawing a line from the horrors of slavery to the racism of today, you’ve come to the right place.
The story begins on a plantation, where the brutal overseers carry out grisly punishments against those tilling the fields. A few have just tried to escape, led by Veronica (Janelle Monae), and they pay a heavy price for their resistance, which does nothing to curb her defiance.
Also written by Bush + Renz, the script take too long before revealing what makes “Antebellum” different, but the middle portion — a “The Twilight Zone”-like phase when it’s hard to be sure exactly what’s going on — is actually the film’s strongest. (Even the trailer arguably gives away too much, so the less one knows, the better.)
The final stretch, by contrast, veers into more familiar thriller territory, and feels especially rushed toward the end, leaving behind a host of nagging, unanswered questions. That provides food for thought, but it’s also what separates the movie from something like “Get Out,” which deftly fleshed out its horror underpinnings.
Although the filmmakers (in a taped message) expressed disappointment that the movie wasn’t making its debut in theaters, in a strange way, the on-demand format somewhat works in its favor. In the press notes, Bush says the goal was “to force the audience to look at the real-life horror of racism through the lens of film horror. We’re landing in the middle of the very conversations that we hoped ‘Antebellum’ would spur.”
“Antebellum” should add to that discussion, so mission accomplished on that level. Monae is also quite good in her first leading film role (she did previously star in the series “Homecoming’s” second season), but otherwise, most of the characters remain underdeveloped.